With Sept. 30 marking Police Chief Deanna Cantrell’s last day in the San Luis Obispo Police Department, the city has begun the national recruitment process for a new chief.
This recruitment is “critically important” for SLO, said City Manager Derek Johnson, who is responsible for hiring the next police chief.
Amid the nationwide conversation on the future of policing, Johnson said he is optimistic that SLO will find a police chief with community-focused leadership.
“People understand the vital role that policing has and how it can be a force of good, and if not managed correctly, then it can have negative consequences,” Johnson said. “So I think all of that put together really highlights and spotlights the need to make sure we get the right person for San Luis Obispo.”
For architecture sophomore Mary Schutte, the arrest of Black Lives Matter protest organizer Tianna Arata served as a setback in the city’s goal of community engagement in policing.
“I feel like that made the gap between the police and the local community even bigger where it’s like, it’s us against them basically,” Schutte said. “So I feel like if the new police chief could avoid that and try to connect the community again that would be better.”
Johnson plans on involving the community in the hiring process in two main ways:
The first step is for the city to choose a recruitment firm that would then bring a national pool of police chief candidates to SLO. Within the next couple weeks, the city intends to hold focus groups to get input on qualities the community wants to see in their next police chief.
Then, a group of community stakeholders would conduct a confidential panel interview with the recruiting firms and advise Johnson based on their review of the firms. Johnson says he’ll review recommendations from the community, police chiefs and internal leaders.
“[We’ll get] a well-rounded perspective of what each applicant brings to the table,” Johnson said.
The group of community stakeholders have not yet been chosen, but it may include people representing marginalized communities, student communities, faith communities and businesses.
For Schutte, who currently lives off-campus in SLO, the main safety concerns on her mind are the spread of COVID-19 and general crime.
“If I’m walking home from somewhere, I just wanna feel safe,” Schutte said.
Human Resources Director Monica Irons is reviewing six professional executive recruitment firms that operate across the country, before the final firm candidates are chosen to go through the interviewing process.
According to Human Resources Manager Nickole Sutter, while any SLO police officers may still apply for the position once recruitment officially begins, the city wanted to remain open to the different perspectives, knowledge and experience that can be found through a national recruitment process.
“Given the complexity of police leadership in our current times and also the city’s desire to have a thorough and complete recruitment that results in a diverse candidate pool, we know that diversity is such a hot topic and just really wanna do our due diligence to find the best candidate out there,” Sutter said.
Though Cal Poly has their own campus police, it often works alongside SLO PD in neighborhoods surrounding campus. With many students and staff being SLO residents, Cal Poly Spokesperson Matt Lazier says the two departments will continue their “collaborative spirit” under the next chief’s leadership.